Trinine is a murky, half-assed, soporific bucket o’ mud from “psychgaze” New York-via-New Zealand vets Bailter Space. It might work as a soundtrack to your cough syrup trips, but the rest of us will find it a dreary, disengaging experience. It’s everything that’s wrong with the “-gaze” suffix, and it’s all the more disappointing when you know what these boys are capable of.
Listen, I’m all for atmospheric, shoegazey sludge, and I’m not looking for the next Loveless or Daydream Nation here. But there’s atmospheric, and there’s don’t-give-a-fuck. If Strobosphere, their 2012 comeback album, proved they can still churn out fuzzy guitar-based nuggets, this one proves they can coast on lazy, barely-there progressions and detached vocals. For a bunch of seasoned pros, they sound an awful lot like those jean-jacketed kids next door, complete with the lead singer in unnecessary aviators who mumbles poetry about ketamine from torn college-ruled sheets.
To be fair, guitarist/vocalist Allister Parker is no kid. But while he has created a whole lot of lovely, dense distortion in the past with Bailter Space (and the Gordons, which formed all the way back in 1980), he doesn’t do much this time around that any high-schooler with a few daisy-chained pedals and a decent Peavey can’t do. Still, on a few tracks, he effectively demonstrates he’s still capable of some interesting guitar skronk and dissonant noodling. What he doesn’t seem capable of (or interested in) anymore is singing in tune. It was forgivable on Strobosphere, where his vocals created some nifty dissonance all on their own. But it’s insufferable here. Even with his voice buried in the mix, dripping in reverb, the atonality is bracing, and not in a good, early (or recent, for that matter) Paul Westerberg-everyman kind of way. Instead, it just sounds shitty, off-the-cuff, under-rehearsed. Except for a few all-too-brief moments, the atmospheric rock of Trinine fails to create an atmosphere — it just sits there, taking up space.
The title track substitutes bendy strings for a gripping progression, but there’s something almost endearing in its sloppiness — it’s reminiscent of the earliest Flaming Lips cuts, maybe, or Flipper at their most spare. Can’t say the same for the next two tracks, unfortunately — neither “Painted Window” nor “Today” offer up much except grungy repetition and bored vocals. Even Brent MacLachlian’s snare, usually right out front, snappy and taut, sounds defeated. “Today” is a head-scratcher — what was probably intended to create an air of danger ends up sounding like a throwaway jam, something they intended to shelve until they could figure out what to do with it.
It isn’t until the fourth track, “Tri5”, that we finally get a taste of what these guys can do, if you ignore the intentionally pinched vocals (not a difficult task) and focus on the interplay between the bass and guitar, the driving beat, the heavy chords and noisy leads. Even then, though, the song fades out just when this clatter threatens to come together and form something approaching art.
And then we’re back to more misses. “In the World” gives us some chords we can latch onto and some interesting tonal shifts, but not much else — the melody never strays much from the root, and Parker’s sub-sub-Lou Reedy vocals, druggy and detached, derail the whole thing again. Shame, because the track builds in urgency, mostly thanks to MacLaclian, gamely pounding away, and almost gives the album some desperately-needed energy. “Plan Machine” throws some distortion on the vocal (Parker must have had a spare pedal lying around), but it’s one-maybe-two-chord drone is humdrum, even at the high volume Bailter Space clearly wants you to indulge in. And the set continues, choogling on and on, the occasional low-E-string bend failing to break the snoozy spell, the mid-tempo tunes blending into each until they collapse into one groggy pile.
What makes this all the more frustrating are the maddening hints of greatness dispersed here and there, especially on the second half. “Together” and “Silver” finally offer some shimmer — the drums pound over ringing guitars, and the beautiful, fuzzy feedback and John Halvorsen’s thudding bass actually create a mood. “Gamma Tram” expands on this and creates a little genuine menace — too bad it’s only 40 seconds long, half of them a fade-out. “Films of You” puts the vocals out front, kinda, and the Dinosaur Jr. groove, choppy overdubs, and icy feedback threaten to recall the band’s glory days, when the noise actually welcomed you in (check out “X” or “Splat” on YouTube). But even the best moments are over way too quickly — “Films” perversely fades just as it starts to gain traction, and the beautifully controlled feedback of “TapenZloop” only serves to point out that with a little thought, the chromatic bends scattered throughout the album could achieve a certain hypnotic transcendence. But it, too, trickles out before the two-minute mark, and the long 40-minute set is over.
Thing is, Baiter Space has done this a lot better in the past; check out 1993’s Votura and 1995’s Wammo to hear how the clash of a fuzzy drone with urgent vocals and even some ear-friendly hooks can send you to a sonic bliss without the pop sugarcoating provided by, say, Oasis. I’m not suggesting they harmonize, or scream, or try to recreate their own past. But when bands as diverse as Weekend and the Sky Drops are taking atmospheric gaze into exciting new places, Bailter Space has to offer something more than thrown-together drudge-rock to make an impression.
Seriously, though, don’t abuse cough syrup. Nasty stuff, that.